Industry Wins Again at the Legislature: Water Quality Standards Weakened

Changes sought by industry to the DEP rules regarding water quality standards for human consumption  were passed by the Legislature on February 10.  The DEP incorporated the changes into the proposed rules as “a compromise” between the views of industry and environmental groups, but the measure was opposed strongly by West Virginia Rivers, the chief water conservation group in the state. The measure was SB 279, approved in the House by a vote of 72-22.  Not a single Democrat voted in favor.

The bill, now headed to the Governor for signature, does two basic things.  First, it raises the allowable levels in drinking water for a number of chemicals and pesticides long known to be carcinogenic.  Among these are DDT, benzo[k]fluoranthene, and chrysene. The latter two chemicals are suspected human carcinogens that are byproducts of coal tar. Proponents of the rule argue that it also strengthens protections against other harmful chemicals.

Second, it cedes the Legislature’s current authority to review changes in future rules to the DEP, ostensibly because this will speed up the review of the changes. The EPA allows states to modify water quality criteria at site-specific locations. The new rule takes advantage of this freedom.  Initially the proposed rule would have allowed “site-specific” adjustments to apply state-wide. Opponents complained that this was a giant-sized loophole for industry.  The rule approved by the Legislature confines “site-specific” changes to the standards to specific waterways.

Voting in favor of SB 279 were Delegates Barrett (Berkeley), Espinosa (Jefferson), Forsht (Berkeley), Hardy (Berkeley), Honaker (Greenbrier), Hott (Grant), Householder (Berkeley), Howell (Mineral), Longanacre (Greenbrier), Miller (Morgan), Nestor (Randolph), Reed (Berkeley), Rowan (Hampshire), Ward (Hardy).  Voting against were Delegates Doyle (Jefferson) and Thompson (Randolph).  Delegates Clark (Jefferson) and Horst (Grant) were absent.

Read more here and here.